By Phil Gregory
Today, Arsenal welcome Birmingham to the Emirates Stadium for a match that this Gunner had circled on the fixture list from the moment it came out. For many, this match is far, far more than just another chance for three points: it’s the memory of Eduardo’s leg break, Gallas’ meltdown and the moment our title hopes realistically ended.
Birmingham are managed by Alex McLeish, a man who divides opinion amongst opposition fans. Criticised last season when they made a meal of promotion, despite a large transfer outlay results have been mixed thus far this campaign.
McLeish is undoubtedly a talented manager, nearly getting Scotland qualified from a group containing Italy and France. That said, looking at the wonders Steve Bruce manufactured at Wigan after leaving Birmingham (due to uncertainty over his future after the proposed takeover by Carson Yeung) and this season at Sunderland, one can only wonder where Birmingham would be now had they remained under his stewardship.
Arsenal go into this match hoping that the international break won’t have disrupted their momentum from six wins on the trot. A previously leaky defence has only conceded twice in the last five games, while firing fifteen past the opposition in the same period.
Birmingham’s recent away form has been a mixed bag, with losses at Sunderland and Burnley, but a win over Phil Brown’s beleaguered Hull City side. The international break couldn’t have come at a better time for Birmingham, with three consecutive losses in the league.
Given their struggles this season, it seems likely that the only table Birmingham are going to top is the injury league, with ten players out for the game at the Emirates. Christian Benitez is out due to an issue with “connecting flights from Chile”, while Birmingham injuries denying them ex-Spur Tainio, Fahey, Jerome and Marcus Bent. McFadden, scorer of THAT goal in Paris is out with a thigh strain along with Parnaby, Franck Queudrue and Gregory Vignal have hamstring trouble. Martin Taylor is out with a foot injury, sadly.
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger expects Diaby to recover from one of his seemingly perpetual knocks, though Eduardo Da Silva is out with a thigh strain. Manuel Almunia is said to be “fifty: fifty” (the mystery continues) while Clichy has been ruled out. There’s no news on Walcott after the latter picked up a dead leg on international duty. Denilson and Djourou are both definitely out, and Nasri is progressing well with his rehabilitation from a broken leg.
Goal-shy Birmingham are yet to score more than two goals in a match this season and have only managed that once this season) so I’m not going to point towards any attackers as key men for this match. Joe Hart, Man City’s on loan goalkeeper, has undoubtedly played a part in ensuring Birmingham have conceded less league goals than any other team in the bottom half, despite their placing of 14th. The young stopper showed what he can do in the U21 Euros over the summer, and was a big loss when he was suspended for the final.
Arsenal are making it tricky for me here, with a stellar front line at their disposal. Expect the front three to showcase some blistering football, with Van Persie likely to benefit from a rest over the international break. Expect the Dutchman to continue his excellent ɡoalscorinɡ form and to find the net in this match.
Arsenal expected lineup:
Sagna Gallas Vermaelen Gibbs
Rosicky Van Persie Arshavin
Subs: Fabianki, Eboue, Walcott, Silvestre, Ramsey, Wilshere, Merida
Tricky one to predict this… quite a few doubts, and it’s hard to second guess who’ll be jetlagged from Internationals etc. Going to go for Wenger sticking to the same back four, bar Gibbs coming in for Clichy due to some concern over his injury. It’s Birmingham at home; we can rest a left back, can’t we?
Diaby will almost certainly be fit to play, so will sneak onto the team sheet at centre mid. I’d like to see Ramsey get the game time as he has shown he can perform at the Emirates.
Subs will depend on jetlag; Clichy may get on the bench, Sagna might be rested so Eboue could start, Ramsey could yet force his way into Arsene’s thoughts, although it looks like, as usual, Vela won’t make it back in time. Bendtner seems to be out as well.
I can’t see anything less than a three or four nil win for Arsenal. Some might point out Birmingham’s seemingly solid defensive record, but looking at their fixtures, they’ve already played a lot of the poor teams in the league.
This team can beat anybody at home, and with Birmingham’s depleted squad I feel they are there for the taking. Given how they are struggling in front of goal, I think it’s a safe bet that we’re going to keep a clean sheet too. I’m going to be watching this one round at the house of a Birmingham fan, so hopefully we give them a good battering!
Half time musing:
Am I the only one who is bemused at the general consensus amongst pundits that the Old Firm leaving the SPL would improve the quality of the league? Anyone with a basic grounding in economics (or even just an ounce of common sense) can see that removing the Old Firm is simply reducing the competition in the league, and reducing competition in any shape or firm never, never leads to an improvement in the quality of anything.
The line of thinking seems to be that it would allow the second tier sides such as Hearts and Hibs into Europe, and that extra money would improve the quality of the league. Not true: what would happen is Hearts and Hibs would get destroyed by teams in the Champions League (if they get consistently beaten by the Old Firm they can’t be very good to start off with!). This would lead to Scotland’s league coefficient (the number that defines how many Europa League/Champions League palces a country gets) takes a serious hit, and they end up with a league that gets a single Champions League place into the early stages of the qualifiers. Improving the SPL? I think not.
And now a PS from the editor
MAKING THE ARSENAL -the first novel about the Arsenal in 75 years – is about to be published.
- Read an extract
- Read the most unusual interview in the history of interviews in which the author interviews himself
- Place an order
Phil Gregory is a 20 year old student at the University of Leeds. Studying Economics and French, he’s been a Gunner since he got interested in football at a young age, and plans on being a regular at the Arsenal away games in the North this season.